My son introduced me to the Call of Duty franchise on his XBox. I found the historical content of the WW2 games more interesting than the games themselves. OK, I liked the one about shooting Nazi zombies, that was fun. But as the games become more visually complex and even aesthetically pleasing, the simulation of violence became more and more troublesome for me as a parent, and I started looking at the age ratings for the games he wanted to get.

If he was still living with me, I’d probably say no to the latest installment, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which is getting a lot of buzz for posing ethical problems which may even put off some gamers. The buzz seems to focus on a sequence when the player is called on to join in massacring civilians at an airport in order to infiltrate a terrorist gang. Chris Sullentrop writes on that “It’s the most anti-war war game I’ve ever played, a murder simulator that won’t let you forget the nature of your actions.”

The always interesting David Aaronivitch, writing in The Times, is less sanguine about the ethical dilemmas the game will pose:

“With the new Call of Duty, the airport scenario has led to an on-screen warning that precedes the bloodshed. “Some players,” it says, “may find one of the missions disturbing or offensive. Would you like to have the option to skip this mission?” How many of the 1.23 million people who bought the game in Britain this week in the first 24 hours of its availability — collectively paying £47 million in the process — do we imagine, opted to skip? My guess is round about none. How many of them were actually under 18? Or buying for people under 18? Though the supposed retail price is £55, my local HMV was offering it for £9.99 if you traded in an old game, so money wasn’t necessarily a problem.”

Is there anyone else out there worried about all those disaffected kids in black raincoats, sitting in their basements shooting civilians in an airport? And is there anything just a little hypocritical about the game designer’s apparent refusal to include children among the civilians that the gamer can massacre, or should we feel comforted that there are still some boundaries that apparently can’t be crossed? Shooting Nazi zombies is so uncomplicated by comparison.

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  1. I know someone who is an army chaplain who is looking for an (amusing) story re Christmas that he can use. Can you point me towards aynthing that I can pass on to him? Thanks.

  2. I haven't played the game, I'm hoping to buy myself an X-Box after Christmas in the boxing day sales 🙂 So what I say, I say having not been able to play it myself.

    "Is there anyone else out there worried about all those disaffected kids in black raincoats, sitting in their basements shooting civilians in an airport?"

    Well, there's a couple of things to consider when answering your question. I think first and foremost, the kids who shot up that school in Columbine so many years ago (10 years ago back in April!) weren't killers because of video games. They weren't well, and had easy access to firearms. It's possible they would have done the same if they weren't playing Doom.

    Some people buying this game will be buying for kids below the age stipulated in the ESRB rating. A good chunk of these probably do think their kids are mature enough to handle it and that's their decision, but I'm sure enough of them are just getting it because their kid wants it (there will always be a contingency of people who don't know what they're really getting for their kid, regardless of if it's music or games or a movie, or letting them watch something on tv that's inappropriate… by the way, ESRB works pretty well for what it is- it can't keep grown ups from buying for kids, but it does keep kids from buying it themselves and a lot of games sellers will advise a parent if they suspect they're buying something inappropriate for their kid- of course, it's up to the parent to decide what to do with that advice.).

    Some of the stuff that we were listening to in gaming podcasts was pretty interesting right after the game launched, you might be interested in checking it out. "What They Play" is a cool podcast about gaming and kids and everytime there's a Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto game, they tend to have interesting things to say about it. I think on 4 Guys 1Up and CAGcast they had some thoughtful discussion of the game as well.